How much good is a commitment to diversity if those at the ‘top’ haven’t changed? Hull Truck Theatre are committed to change that, writes Ruth Puckering, Interim Executive Director.

Early in 2018, Hull Truck Theatre, along with four other producing theatres in Yorkshire, was approached by Artistic Directors of the Future (ADF) to take part in their inaugural Regional Board Shadowing Programme. The programme is designed to offer aspiring trustees from culturally diverse backgrounds the chance to better understand the roles and responsibilities of a theatre’s Board of Directors. ADF had already run the programme with Battersea Arts Centre, artsdepot, Finborough Theatre and Albany Theatre, London, and wanted to pilot it in a regional setting. Being a friendly bunch who enjoy a bit of joined up thinking, Hull Truck Theatre, Sheffield Theatres, Leeds Playhouse, Stephen Joseph Theatre and York Theatre Royal already work together and keep in close contact, so were a readymade consortium of partners.

The programme fits perfectly with our own commitment to inclusion here in Hull, part of which is to open up access to roles within the theatre to those currently underrepresented. We have already piloted initiatives such as an Off-Stage Choices day for local schools, and offer entry level apprenticeships and internships, but this is an opportunity to demystify roles and broaden diversity of voice right at the top, at governance level. A lack of diversity at leadership level is a challenge facing the wider arts sector, so we are excited to work in partnership to try and address it and share learning from our experience via a thorough evaluation.

ADF led the recruitment process and received a healthy number of applicants from around the country. The interviews revealed a varied understanding, not only of Board activity and responsibility, but of regional theatre as a whole, further highlighting the importance of schemes that raise awareness of the opportunities and vibrant arts culture around the country.

One of the opportunities presented to us by being part of this programme is to better understand the barriers to engagement and diversity of voice at Board level. Many of the applicants took up the opportunity to do the interviews via Skype, rather than travel to Hull, indicating that time and expense are likely barriers. A full evaluation is running alongside the programme, which will give deeper insight into this, and other challenges.

Just before Christmas, the 11 successful candidates and stakeholders attended a welcome briefing at Sheffield Theatres. One of our Trustees, Sophie Buckley, alongside Trustees from other theatres, was able to give the cohort an overview of what Board membership entails. As well as observing a Board meeting at one of the five participating theatres between January-March 2019, members of the cohort will be given unprecedented access to meet with Chairs and Executive leaders, attend subcommittee meetings, and will be invited to other events such as press nights and sharings of new work, in order to embed a full understanding of how a theatre operates, and the breadth of delivery of which a Board has oversight. The success of this holistic approach will inform how we induct new Board members in the future – learning in both directions. The sense of enthusiasm in the room was palpable, with a buzz of new relationships being formed and the potential for seeding real change.